In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, we saw Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant dominate, each topping 40 points efficiently and Nowitzki making 36 of his 39 total shots. The Mavs won an offensive game to stay unbeaten at home in the playoffs. None of that should have surprised us. Here are the things that we can take away from the WCF opener.
Westbrook was the weak link.
The biggest questions entering this series were whether the Thunder could do anything to phase Nowitzki, whether a second and third scorer would consistently step up for Dallas, and whether the Mavs could slow down either Durant or Russell Westbrook. While Westbrook still scored 20 points, when Dallas went to the zone late in the first quarter he struggled to find his game. He was 3-15 from the field and posted a three assist, four turnover game. He won’t play like that for the entire series, but Dallas hopes that he will at least a couple more times.
Nowitzki negated OKC’s interior presence.
With Serge Ibaka incapable of slowing down Nowitzki, the Thunder were forced to alter their defensive scheme. Kendrick Perkins had the worst plus/minus in the game at -14 in just 27 minutes, and J.J. Barea was able to be a major penetrating factor. With Ibaka averaging four blocks per game in the playoffs, Dirk turned the tables on him, blocking four of his own, while Ibaka and Perkins had none.
Despite big games from Dirk, Barea and Terry, Dallas was limited offensively.
The deep rounds of the playoffs often expose weaker aspects of a team, and one area that OKC will hope to exploit is Dallas’ limited number of legitimate scoring options behind Dirk. Jason Terry and Barea are both streaky players, and Shawn Marion was the only other Maverick with more than one field goal or three points. Dallas will need Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler to make some sort of offensive contribution to win this series.
Rebounds were nearly even.
Rick Carlisle preaches defensive rebounding as a huge factor in wins and losses, and we didn’t see a big winner in Game 1. OKC won the battle 35-33, but Dallas can live with that margin. When the Mavs fail to shoot 53% and 94% from the line, they absolutely must keep the Thunder off of the offensive glass.
Dallas avoided a Game 1 steal.
Entering the series, Dallas was 5-0 at home in the playoffs, and OKC was 6-1. When the series settles down, it figures to slant heavily toward home court. But with the Thunder riding momentum from their emotional seven-game series win and the Mavs sitting at home since May 8, this game was unpredictable. Now, Dallas is back in the flow, should be able to take full advantage of their extended rest, and simply must continue to protect their home court.